Thursday, February 28, 2013

Frank Cullen?

Frank Cullen, Jr. as a young man.
Frank Cullen in about 1940.
I spend a lot of time thinking about Frank Cullen. Frank was my 2nd great-grandfather, and he lived quite a life! Frank spent his early adult life traveling with the Greatest Show on Earth, Barnum & Bailey Circus (as well as several other traveling shows) as a bill poster. My family is fortunate enough to have hundreds upon hundreds of postcards that Frank sent to his mother Mary Jane & his future wife Viola while he was traveling. But more about that in another post.

Elmer, Frank, & Mary Jane Cullen (about 1888)

The biggest mystery about Frank is his father. The story that's trickled down to me is that Frank's mother Mary Jane would tell my great-grandmother Mary Virginia to "mind her own business" when she would ask about her grandfather. It's always been suspected that he took off and left the family, but we have no proof of anything really. 

In my genealogical research,  there is no living sign of Frank Cullen, Sr. He is referenced by name in a few places. In 1889, Mary Jane shows up in the Detroit city directory (after 9 years of no record) as a widow of Frank. (see below)
She continues to claim herself as Frank Cullen's widow for at least another decade in the Detroit city directory. 

The odd thing is that I have absolutely no other written record showing Frank Cullen's life (or death). No birth certificate, marriage record, census record, death record, burial... NOTHING! I cannot even find birth certificates for his 2 sons. 

I do have a document that my Frank (Frank, Jr.) saved with his files. It is an "application for the determination of birth" because Frank's birth was apparently "unrecorded." The City of Cincinnati sent him a letter saying that his birth was not recorded with the city. Can you imagine someone telling you that they have no record of your birth? Anyway, part of the application asks him about his father, and below is how he responds:

It makes me sad that Frank didn't know his father. 

We have 2 photographs in our family records that **could** be of Frank, Sr. Both photos are of a bearded man who looks similar to Frank, Jr. But the photos appear to be much older than the ones I have of Frank, Jr. at a similar age. And I have probably a hundred photos of Frank, Jr, and he is not bearded in a single other photo... Anyway, here they are. 

This is a cardboard backed photo (cabinet photo) that was in Mary Jane Cullen's personal photo album. Someone wrote "Frank Cullen" next to the photo. I believe that this photo is of Frank, Sr. for several reasons (hopefully not just because I want to believe that it's him!). The main reason is that this photo is unlike ANY photo we have of Frank, Jr. And we have a lot of them...

This photo is still in its frame. My grandpa dismantled the frame over Christmas so that we could see if anything was written on the back, but the only thing is the metal plaque with his name.
  I still spend much of my research time hoping to find some shred of evidence that Frank Cullen, Sr. existed. I feel like I've unturned every stone to continue to find nothing. 

But tonight gave me a little bit of hope. I was researching Frank, Jr's time in the circus. I found a fascinating website called It occurred to me that maybe Frank, Sr. isn't to be found because he was in the circus business himself. So my search continues...